When I was 9 years old, I used to pray that my dad would grow his legs back.
I didn’t come upon this prayer on my own. It never would have occurred to me to pray this because nobody in my family ever said we wish Dad could have his legs back. In fact, my dad went to great lengths to minimize his handicap, to not talk about his loss, to muster through pain and awkwardness without complaint. My dad is a hero, but a silent, quiet one. My dad was hurt in the Korean War and had both his legs amputated below his knees. In our family, his condition is simply a fact – a sad fact, yes – but not a tragedy. His injury led him to meeting my mom, who was his physical therapist when he was recovering in San Antonio, Texas. They got married and raised four children. Without the loss of his legs, we wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be the family we are.
He never said, “I wish I had my legs back.” It became a family joke that it could take friends and acquaintances YEARS to discover that my dad is a double amputee. Every day, my dad got up, put his wooden legs on (that’s what they were back then, wooden) and he would go to work. He rarely used crutches and walked fairly smoothly. So smoothly that nobody would guess he is handicapped. And it’s not the kind of information my dad shared readily. While some people wear their handicap on their sleeves, my dad preferred to keep his hidden under his pant legs.
So I don’t know how or when Mrs. B. discovered that my dad had no legs. My mom might have mentioned it to her one day after my gymnastics class or she may have seen him come in to the gym one day and sit down. But since I took gymnastics from Mrs. B. for six or seven years, we did get to know each other fairly well.
She was not your typical gymnastics coach. I have no idea whether she ever competed in the sport herself in her younger years, but she was agile and flexible for her middle age and chubby physique. She had twin daughters who were gymnasts and she seemed to know pretty well how to teach the sport. She was round and she wore dark leggings that clung to her ample legs and rear. She had glasses and long gray hair that she wore in a bun everyday of her life.
The most vivid memory I have of her, however, is her Bible. She carried it everywhere in the gym. It was a dark, soft cover with tissue-thin pages gilded in gold. She always had a pen or pencil tucked in her ear that she would use to underline verses. This was a gym in a public school for a class that was offered through the county. This was also the 1970s, so there weren’t such strong restrictions against proselytizing – or if there were she never adhered to them.
Everything out of her mouth was a joyous thanks to God. Anytime we achieved a new skill, she threw her arms in the air, her head way back so that her smiling face pointed heavenward and yelled, “Praise the Lord!!” or “Hallelujah!” When she was disappointed, however, she always said, “God”, emphasizing the last letter hard.
I remember her daughter coaching me to recite scripture before attempting any scary move so that I would have the strength and courage to go for it. She would hold prayer circles at the end of practice with the whole class. It was in one of these prayer circles that Mrs. B. prayed for healing for my dad. She told me that if I prayed hard enough, in the spring he would grow his legs back.
So for those long winter months, I prayed every night that my dad would grow his legs back. I used to peek into the bathroom when he was in the tub to see if the miracle had happened yet. When the springtime came, and he still was an amputee, I was devastated. In tears, I told my parents.
They were furious that such a huge and daunting task was put on their small daughter. I don’t remember if they ever said anything to Mrs. B., but I do remember them comforting me and saying that it wasn’t my fault my dad’s legs didn’t grow back and that it was a ludicrous idea to think his legs would grow back.
So it has become family lore, whenever we mentioned Mrs. B., that story is retold and we get a chuckle out of it.
That was more than 35 years ago. And as I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve come to wonder more about her and actually admire her for her strong faith and convictions. I read Psalm 145 recently and could not help but just picture Mrs. B, exalting God, praising His name, singing of His greatness, all right there in that middle school gym. These words of praise from David describe her faith exactly.
1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b]
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
So I read these words and smile and think of her and realize she had it right. She celebrated God’s goodness and passed that onto her young classes. Our faith can move mountains. Our faith can grow a tiny seed into a huge tree, home to every bird. Is our faith strong enough to believe in supernatural healing? Hers certainly was. Now I am not a Christian Scientist by any means and I don’t think she was either. I believe her whole life was spent with faith as pure as a child, exactly as Jesus taught us. “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:17. And in our prayer life, God says he wants us to pray with the faith of a child, not tainted by skepticism but full of confidence that He can and will do anything we ask in His will.
And I think therein lies the nexus – in His will.
My dad, bless his heart, is 84 years old and still using his prosthetics, which are much improved now over the wooden clunkers of yore. And do you know how he has spent his past 11 years? Visiting the soldiers at the military hospital in our area, who come home from Iraq and Afghanistan missing limbs. These young soldiers wake up with no legs, no arms, injuries so horrific that in previous wars they would have died, save for recent medical advancements. And there is my dad, at the foot of their beds, standing and listening and giving hope. He tells them he has no legs, yet he raised a family, had a career, put his faith in God, and serves Him. He gives these soldiers hope.
I have no doubt that this is God’s will for my dad – not a miracle healing for himself, but a healing he is bringing to hundreds of others.
Although I prayed so hard that winter I was 9, with the innocent faith of a child, I am glad my prayers were answered differently. And sometimes, it takes 35 years to understand why.